I never decided to go to Granada, Nicaragua.
Less than twenty-four hours earlier I was en route to Puerto Viejo. I had planned to spend the next few months settling in.
Finding the clarity I needed to determine my next adventure. Conserving the energy I spent simply trying to survive and channel it into projects I had neglected on the road.
I couldn’t wait to be back on my bicycle. To cook myself dinner. To see my friends. To return to the closest sense of normalcy I have experienced in more than a year.
But the night before I planned to go, something inside me did not feel ready. Something in me feared that if I went back to Puerto Viejo I might never leave.
I worried I might lose my wanderlust spirit and become stuck.
This decision weighed heavily on me.
So I did what I often do when presented with a difficult choice:
I relieved myself of all responsibility and instead let the universe decide.
It chose Granada.
And there, in the beautiful, hectic, colonial city, I was reminded why I love this life of travel.
I wandered the quieted early morning streets
eating fruit freshly cut on the road
fried balls of yucca dipped in honey
and the most incredible pupusa known to man.
I never felt more alive.
I marveled at stunning churches
I chatted with locals
whose rapid Spanish
humbled my sassy spirit.
unblocked by passing cars.
I escaped the heat of the city
in a mecca
with a spa and a pool
and the meanest little residents
who nipped at my head and toes.
I climbed to the top of volcanoes
explored tiny islands
swam in a cool blue lagoon.
I took the wrong bus
but found my new favorite café
to the top of a tower
moments later saw a Carnival parade.
I became lost
early and often
but the universe always led me
exactly where I needed to be.
Where to Stay in Granada, Nicaragua
$8 for a dorm bed, private rooms start at $14
Hands down one of my favorite hostels I have ever stayed in. The rooms are large and spacious, even the dorm boasts big double beds. The communal area is adorably decorated and feels comforting, like home. The staff is kind, accommodating, and helpful. And somehow, in a city with incredible cuisine, the onsite restaurant has some of the best and most affordable food around. Try the thai red curry with loads of veggies and local raw cashews.
Rooms start at $59 per night including full buffet breakfast, daily pool use, and one spa treatment per day
Hotel Spa Granada is inside of a beautiful old colonial building. The rooms, the gardens, the pool, and the views are all stunning. Enjoy a buffet breakfast each morning with gallo pinto, eggs, fruit, granola, toast, coffee, and juice. Spend time at the pool when you burn out from the heat of the street. Enjoy a massage, manicure, pedicure, or facial e.v.e.r.y.d.a.y. For $60 it doesn’t get much better than this.
Single rooms start at $62 per night
This hotel has style. Consider it the Ace of Nicaragua. Rooms are air conditioned with private bathrooms and plenty of storage. The rate includes the use of a nice outdoor pool, wifi, great communal areas, an extremely friendly, helpful staff and breakfast. So what’s with the name? They donate 100% of profits to support local children with tutoring programs, extracurricular activities, and even sponsored tuition for those moving onto university.
$15 for a dorm bed
This might be the fanciest hostel I’ve ever stayed in… and I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels! It may be much pricier than other hostels in Granada, but the communal spaces are as beautiful and well decorated as some of the nicest hotels in the area and there is a big outdoor pool guests can enjoy.
Where to Eat in Granada, Nicaragua
$3-5 for breakfast, $4-6 for lunch
Come to The Garden Cafe to sit and read one of their many books on a cozy couch or chair, sip on a cappuccino, nibble on a freshly baked muffin, and observe the Granada expat community. Enjoy a healthy breakfast or lunch with fresh fruit and vegetables and other local ingredients. Purchase organic farm produce when available.
$5-8 for lunch
Is your body craving an enormous, satisfying salad? Head to Cafe de los Suenos immediately. For $6 they load roasted beets, avocado, grilled chicken, feta cheese, bell peppers, and bacon on top of a big bed of lettuce. It might be the best salad I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. The space is lovely, as is the staff. Quiche, lasagna, crepes, and panini also grace this french inspired menu.
$2-10 for breakfast, lunch, and treats
An absolutely beautiful cafe and shop owned by expats from Spain. The interior is positively inspired, the organic food is delicious, and the perfect little treats will tempt you to come again and again. Treat yourself to the lovely iced tea, cold coconut water, and yogurt berry cheesecake if they have it.
$15 for local steak
The ambience may make you feel a bit like you’ve landed in the Olive Garden of Central America, but give it a chance. It’s the most famous restaurant and steakhouse in Granada for a reason. The steaks are tender, perfectly cooked and served alongside local favorites like grilled plantains and celery sauce.
On the street
It may not be healthy. It may not be safe. But it is delicious. And cheap. Savor a life changing pupusa made from flattened cornmeal dough stuffed with local cheese, grilled hot and crispy topped with vinegary cabbage salad. Eat seasoned fried chicken on top of crisp plantain chips. Taste unfamiliar goodies that catch your eye. Stock up on inexpensive fish, fruit, vegetables, eggs, and cheese at the local market if you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen.
What to Do in Granada Nicaragua
Wander the streets
Days can easily be spent simply wandering the streets with your eyes and a camera. Enjoy the beautiful technicolor painted colonial architecture. Sit in the park by the fountain. Let your eyes feast at the colorful markets. Soak in the beauty that is Granada.
Swim at the Laguna de Apoyo
$12 for a tour through one of the many hostels
Just outside of Granada is the stunning natural wonder called the Laguna de Apoyo. It is a clean, blue, body of water that rests inside of the crater of a volcano. Make sure to be dropped off at The Monkey Hut to lounge on docks, eat at the restaurant, use complimentary kayaks, and take a long swim.
Take a tour of the Isletas
$20 for an all day tour of the isletas.
One of Granada’s many majestic offerings is its proximity to Lake Nicaragua and the many beautiful tiny islands nearby. Explore on a boat, then stop, eat, rest, swim, kayak. Perfection.
Climb to the top of Mombacho
$15 for transport to the top, $5-10 for guided tours
Walking to the top of Mombacho is entirely possible, it is also incredibly grueling. Do yourself a favor and save your energy for the many trails at the top. Enjoy stunning views of Granada, the isletas, and the surrounding countryside.
Escape the heat at Hotel Spa Granada
$5 for all day pool use, come and go as you please. $8-30 for spa services, $55 for a manicure, pedicure, facial, hour long massage, and eyebrow wax…what?!
Granada is absolutely beautiful, but damn is it hot. I spent nearly every afternoon when the sun was at its strongest, bathing in the cool water of the private courtyard pool. Beware of the three evil ducks who act as gatekeepers surrounding the adorable white kitten. They will bite and attack you. The spa services are excellent and shockingly affordable.
Center yourself at Pure Spa
$5 for a gym or yoga pass, acupuncture starting at $17, full spa services at a screaming deal
A day of pampering at Pure Spa is necessary. Daily attendance is even better. Skilled teachers offer Vinyasa yoga classes several times daily, a full gym is available for your own routine, and you can take advantage of exceptional spa services like acupunture, reiki, and massage for next to nothing. They service detoxifyingly delicious green juice all day for only $1 and yummy vegetarian meals for $5. You may wonder if you’ve died and gone to wellness heaven.
Climb to the top of the Tower of Merced
$1 for entrance to the top, tower closes at 5:30pm
A short climb to the church’s bell tower offers beautiful views of Granada and Mombacho. The bell rings on the hour and it’s an impressive site to see a strong man rock that bell! This spot is ideal at sunset when a warm glow washes over the town and the apse of the cathedral becomes a lovely silhouette against the pink sky.
Visit the Calzada at night
Free or very expensive depending how soft your spot is
Watch street performers, have a drink, and mingle with locals on the liveliest strip in Granada. Vendors may hassle you, stay strong and you won’t be a target.